Malaysia Lifts Security Law, Student Politics Ban
Friday, 25 November, 2011 | 13:07 WIB
TEMPO Interactive, Kuala Lumpur:Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak repealed another security law Thursday, setting the stage for hundreds detained without trial to be freed or face criminal charges.
He also pledged to lift a student politics ban in line with promises to expand civil liberties ahead of polls widely expected to be called within months.
Najib has been scrapping or amending a range of decades-old laws criticised as oppressive and outdated in an attempt to win back voters, who dealt the government its worst election results ever three years ago.
Opposition leaders and activists claim the reform pledges are election ploys, which do not herald any real change.
"All our moves are the result of the government's respect for the people's aspirations and listening and responding to the pulse of the people," Najib told parliament in a rare televised address.
"It is not cheap rhetoric or false promises; it is one of taking a brave moral stand."
Najib said the government was withdrawing three emergency declarations, which allow for detention without trial and date back to racial riots in 1969, saying they were no longer relevant.
"The repeal will not affect the government's ability to prevent crime or any other matter that may threaten the security or the economy or public safety," he said, adding that the declarations would expire within six months, giving authorities until then to either charge or free those held.
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was quoted by the national news agency Bernama as saying that 36 detainees would be released soon but gave no further details.
A government spokesman said a total of 1,481 detainees were currently being held under the Emergency Ordinance.
Police say more than 700 people were detained in the first eight months of this year. A UN Human Rights Council report last year put the figure of those in detention at up to 6,000.
Activists have long lobbied for the law to be abolished, saying it is increasingly used to hold suspected petty criminals without due process. An opposition lawmaker was briefly detained under the law earlier this year.
Senior opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang dismissed Najib's latest announcements as "election motivated".
"Whether he is prepared to walk the talk is still to be tested," he told AFP. "This should all have been repealed three, four decades ago."
In his address, Najib also said he would amend a provision forbidding students from participating in politics, which critics say stifles academic freedom.
He said students above the age of 21 would be allowed to join political parties "to respect the rights of undergraduates".
He also defended a proposed new law, the Peaceful Assembly Bill.
Dozens of activists protested against the bill outside Parliament Thursday, saying it aims to curb the right to peaceful protest by banning street demonstrations.
Najib's coalition has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, often with an iron fist.
But yielding to increasing demands for greater civil liberties and trying to regain support, Najib has promised to break with the country's authoritarian past.
Nalini Elumalai, a representative of local human rights group Suaram, said Najib should provide further details for the legal changes.
"We question the sincerity of the government," she told AFP. "They have been so secretive all the while. We hope they won't come out with new bills... that are repressive."
Earlier this month, police detained 13 suspected militants on Borneo island under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which also allows detention without trial and Najib has pledged to repeal.
Critics say the fresh arrests under the security act undermined Najib's promise to do away with it. The government says the detentions were necessary to protect the country's security.
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